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Animal ID money may be cut in ag bill

WASHINGTON -- Funding for the national animal identification system would be zeroed out under the fiscal year 2010 agriculture appropriations bill approved June 11 by the House Ag-riculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

WASHINGTON -- Funding for the national animal identification system would be zeroed out under the fiscal year 2010 agriculture appropriations bill approved June 11 by the House Ag-riculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

USDA has been trying to implement a national animal identification program that would trace each animal from birth to food use since the discovery of the first case of mad cow disease in the United States in December 2003. USDA initially proposed making the program mandatory, but it remained voluntary amid strong opposition from cattle ranchers. Only about one-third of animal premises in the country have signed up to be registered, and DeLauro has strongly criticized USDA for its management of the program.

Mismanagement

As House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., noted at the markup, USDA has received $142 million for animal identification since fiscal 2004 and has registered only 35 percent of animal premises.

Last year, USDA got $14.2 million to run the program, but increased registrations by only 3 percent. At this rate, DeLauro said, it will take USDA 12 years to register all the animal premises in the country. DeLauro said she favors mandatory registration and noted that it took Canada only two years to register all its premises. DeLauro told reporters afterward that she favors a mandatory animal identification system because she thinks it would "provide assurance against economic calamity" and "protect our export markets."

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But DeLauro said she also thinks USDA has mismanaged the program and wasted money.

"We have no effective system in place," DeLauro said.

DeLauro offered to take a second look at the issue after USDA finishes a nationwide set of listening sessions at which stakeholders are supposed to present their views. Congress needs to finish the bill by October. It's possible that USDA might have a clearer idea of where animal identification is headed by the time the Senate takes up the bill later this summer.

House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., also an advocate of mandatory animal identification, has said he would back cutting the funding unless USDA figures out how to make the program mandatory.

Dairy cattle, pork and poultry producers and meat processors went along with the animal identification system, but beef cattle producers immediately rebelled, saying the cost would be prohibitive and the system would provide information that cattle buyers could use to lower prices. USDA said it would proceed with a voluntary program and hope to convince producers to register their premises.

The fiscal year 2010 Agriculture appropriations bill, which was approved by voice vote with no amendments, totaled $22.9 billion, a $2.3 billion increase from fiscal year 2009. DeLauro said the bill is scheduled to come before the full House Appropriations Committee June 18. The Agriculture Department's farm subsidies and the supplemental nutrition assistance program -- the new name for food stamps -- are mandatory spending and not included in the appropriations bill.

Trade issues

The bill continues a ban on USDA approving chicken imports from China even though some farm groups and USDA officials have begun to note that China seems to be retaliating against other U.S. agricultural products, particularly pork. DeLauro described a 2006 USDA decision that China's food safety system for chicken is equivalent to the U.S. inspection as coming from a "flawed, deeply flawed" process.

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"Decisions about importing food products from China are a public health issue," DeLauro said. "They should not be entangled in trade discussions."

But Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., the subcommittee ranking member, said he might offer an amendment in full committee to end the ban.

The Agriculture Department's discretionary programs are funded at $20.4 billion, $2 billion above fiscal year 2009. The FDA is funded at $2.35 billion, $298.6 million above fiscal year 2009, the same as the president's request and the CFTC is funded at $160.6 million, $14.6 million above fiscal year 2009, also the same as the president's request. DeLauro noted that the big increase in CFTC is related to the recent financial crisis and CFTC's need to increase oversight of the commodity futures industry.

Ag bill

DeLauro cut President Obama's budget requests by a total of $650 million, including the $14.5 million for animal identification, but did not include the president's proposals to cut farm subsidies to all farmers with more than $1 billion in sales or to cut crop insurance programs.

DeLauro's biggest budget savings was in the special nutrition program for women, infants, and children, but the $236 million cut came in administrative and contingency funds and the subcommittee mark actually increased funding for the program for fiscal year 2010. The bill provides for 10.1 million people to participate in the Women, Infants and Children program, a figure above the administration's proposed participation level of 9.8 million. Total funding for WIC would be $681 million, 10 percent higher than in fiscal year 2009.

The bill also includes $180 million for the commodity supplemental food program, an increase of almost $20 million above fiscal year 2009 and $17 million more than the administration's request. The bill would expand the program beyond the 32 states currently participating to include Arkansas, Oklahoma, Delaware, Utah, New Jersey and Georgia.

DeLauro also included $464 million for P.L. 480, the government's primary international food aid program, an increase of 27 percent over fiscal year 2009 and the same as the president's request. The bill would also double the budget for the McGovern-Dole international school feeding program from $100 million to $199.5 million, an amount that also equals the president's request.

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Agricultural research at state universities also got a big boost. The bill provides $1.25 billion for the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (formerly the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service), 2 percent more than fiscal year 2009 and 7 percent more than the president requested. But the USDA Agricultural Research Service was flatlined.

DeLauro cut the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which provides money to farmers, ranchers and animal operations for cleanup, by $20 million from the administration's request, leaving it at $1.18 million, but provided more money than the president had requested for the Wetlands Reserve Program, the Farm and Ranch Lands Protect Protection and the Wildlife Habitat Program. Conservation and farm groups had bitterly criticized the administration's proposals to cut those programs. The bill's total conservation spending is $980 million, $11.9 million higher than fiscal year 2009 and $72.9 million more than the president's request.

The bill also provides $67.3 million to the Farm Service Agency for information technology improvements, but DeLauro said she is working on report language to make sure the subcommittee can "benchmark" USDA's use of the money and make sure it is spent properly.

The Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which inspects meat, poultry and eggs, was funded at $1.02 billion, a 5 percent increase from fiscal year 2009 and the same as the president's request.

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